Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave up his flagging campaign for president Friday afternoon, saying he did so with “no regrets.”
Towards the end of a speech at the Eagle Forum, a conservative Republican group, in St. Louis, Perry said, “When I gave my life to Christ, I said, “your ways are greater than my ways. Your will superior to mine.”
“Today I submit that his will remains a mystery, but some things have become clear. That is why today I am suspending my campaign for the presidency of the United States.”
Perry is the first of the 17 Republican White House hopefuls to abandon the quest, despite his strong name ID and record during 14 years as governor. He had failed to make the cut for the top tier GOP presidential debate at Reagan Library Wednesday. He also missed the cut for the first debate.
Perry’s fund-raising was so weak that he had stopped paying most staff last month and was down to one paid aide in each of the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina, and had abandoned New Hampshire. This week he was unable to keep his campaign office in the Palmetto State open.
Republicans are quite literally looking for reasons to scratch contenders off their list. It isn't hard to find a reason or two to scratch Perry off.
Larry Sabato, University of Virginia
The former Texas governor was among the first in the GOP field to criticize frontrunner Donald Trump as the real estate tycoon began to ride his wave to the top. He took aim at Trump again in his exit speech, though not by name, by warning conservatives not to be wrapped up in celebrity.
“For me, the message has always been greater than the man,” Perry said. “The conservative movement has always been about principles, not personalities. Our nominee should embody those principles. He – or she – must make the case for the cause of conservatism more than the cause of their own celebrity.”
In another dig, Perry riffed on Trump's "make America great again" slogan by saying "Let’s make America, America again."
For his part, Trump tweeted after Perry’s announcement that the former governor was “ a terrific guy and I wish him well- I know he will have a great future!”
Ironically, it was Trump who correctly predicted last week that Perry would be dropping out of the race, which Perry denied in a confusing non sequitur about “even a broken clock being right once a day.”
It was Perry’s gaffes that ultimately sank his earlier 2012 bid and he was never able to overcome the memory of it with voters.
When he announced his candidacy in August, 2011, he looked like a strong, durable choice: The long-serving governor of Texas, able to raise big money quickly, politically battle-tested, conservative, but down-to-earth enough to win friends among a broad constituency.
He quickly vaulted to the top of Republican primary polls that month, well ahead of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and eventual party nominee. Perry, though, quickly stumbled, a fall culminating in what’s now called the “oops” moment.
It came during a debate in Michigan in November. He was discussing how he’d shrink the size of the federal government.
“It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone – Commerce, Education and the um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see. Oh five – Commerce, Education and the um, um,” Perry said.
Romney, standing nearby, suggested the Environmental Protection Agency. Yes, said Perry, who quickly thought about it, and said no, the EPA should survive. So what was the third agency?
“The third agency of government I would do away with – the education, the uh, the commerce and let’s see. I can’t the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
That sealed Perry’s fate. He finished a distant fifth in the Iowa caucus with 10 percent. Sixteen days later, he dropped out of the race, endorsing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
For the 2016 campaign, Perry prepared carefully for two years, studying issues, especially foreign policy, and adopting a new look, stylish glasses instead of contacts, that gave him a more thoughtful image.
But voters – and donors – weren’t buying the transformation. And money was becoming tough to raise.
“He’s not clicking with Republican voters outside of Texas,” said Dennis Goldford, political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines.
In the Real Clear Politics average of recent presidential polls, Perry was at .8 percent.
“It is extremely difficult for a candidate registering in the very low single digits in the polls and having no realistic path to victory to raise money, especially the thousands of donations needed for an official campaign to be viable, given the $2,700 primary donation limit,” said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was one of the first of his rivals to issue a release commenting on Perry’s exit: “I commend him for running an honorable, positive campaign and wish the best to him and his family.”